Planning Commissioners like Emerald Views

I missed most of the Design Review Committee meeting last night and all the public comment, but did get out of work early enough to catch what Madeleine Zayas-Mart and Suzie Lee had to say. C. Blake Hunstman, strangely, wasn’t there.

Anyway, they pretty much ignored the irrelevant questions in the staff report and it sounds like they’re both on board. Madeline Zayas-Mart talked about how the building would add vibrancy and safety to the neighborhood, and seemed to really like the design and appreciated what it would improve both the streetscape and the skyline. Suzie Lee was a little more pro-garden. She began her comments by saying that after 30 years of living in Oakland, she saw the garden for the very first time last month, and that she asked a bunch of friends and neighbors about it, and none of them had ever heard of it. But she did think that it was beautiful, and that the city made a huge mistake by not accepting the donation offer. She said that she supported the building (but possibly with a smaller footprint) only after any private fundraising efforts to preserve the garden are exhausted.

I just don’t get this talk of privately raising money for the garden at all. I mean – fine, if they can get the money to buy and maintain it, great. I would still prefer to see the site opened to the public, increasing the amount of open space in the neighborhood, and I would prefer to see the building there, but if they had the cash to keep the garden, I’d at least see the point in having that discussion. But we all know that there’s no way they’re raising $8 million to buy the thing, and they aren’t coming up with any land to swap – if either of these were an option, they would have produced them sometime in the 19 months they’re been trying to stop the development.

6 thoughts on “Planning Commissioners like Emerald Views

  1. Max Allstadt

    Hey V,

    Is there any teeth in the developer’s promise to keep their observation deck in the design and open to the public? If they’re doing that, I see it a such a huge contribution to public space in Oakland that I feel like I can completely ignore the loss of the garden. There’s so much green space down by the lake already, I don’t think it’ll be missed all that much.

  2. Chris Kidd

    I don’t know much about this project in particular, but I do know that developers like to hide their “open space” requirements as much as possible. It’s much easier to create an open space that no one visits and is hard to access than provide genuine open space that might actually be *gasp!* used by the public at large.

    The chronicle did a great piece about some supposed open-spaces in downtown regions. My personal favorite is how hard it is to get up to the “public rooftop garden” on top of the Westfield center.

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/12/20/NS4MTFVTS.DTL&hw=downtown+rooftop+open+space&sn=004&sc=364

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/03/23/MN8GVOE5D.DTL&hw=downtown+rooftop+open+space&sn=006&sc=252

    Open space, indeed.

  3. V Smoothe Post author

    I’m skeptical of this public observation deck. I mean, they said they would, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that changed. They also said at the meeting last summer that they would pay to fix up and maintain Snow Park, which they’re no longer offering to do. I think that the Planning Commission should demand the renovation and maintenance of Snow Park as a condition of approval – that was one of the reasons I was so excited about the project in the first place. Anyway, I just don’t know enough about their plans to say either way.

  4. Zach Seal

    Good call V.

    If the developer simply “promises” that the observation deck will be
    public, but staff and the planning commission are out to lunch (or
    simply distracted by all the other elements of the project, which
    would be understandable), and does not include as a CONDITION OF
    APPROVAL in the resolution that the observation room be accessible to
    the public, then the room may very well be for the exclusive enjoyment
    of the residents. Ditto for the improvements to Snow Park: no
    condition of approval, no improvements to Snow Park. The developer
    would not be legally bound to follow through on either promise.

    IMPORTANT: I know this is a controversial project and a lot of people
    out there oppose it; however, if the writing is on the wall at some
    point in the future, and the planning commission is getting ready to
    approve it, demand of the commissioners that both these conditions
    (observation deck public and improvements to Snow Park) get included
    in the final resolution for the project. And if you support the
    project, also demand these conditions every chance you get.

  5. Max Allstadt

    Chris Kidd’s links had me thinking about that same issue pretty hard Zach.

    I think the condition of approval should be that the deck is accessible via a public entrance, with no more than a sign in sheet as an obstacle. Signs adjacent street should point the way to the public entrance, and clearly say “free observation deck” or the like. Hours of operation should be reasonable too. Maybe dawn to 10pm? If there’s going to be an observation deck, we should be able to watch the sunrise and the city lights from it. And yes this should be a condition of approval. I also think that if they want to put a refreshment kiosk up there to cover costs a little, they should get to. If all these conditions are met, this would be an awesome addition to the city.

  6. Robert

    Great idea Max, clear signage is vital for the public enjoyment of any observation deck. San Francisco’s experience has shown that one of the biggest problems with these public spaces inside a private building is that the public is unaware of their existence, or how to ge to them.

    While I think that renovation of a public park like Snow Park is really the city’s responsibility, if we can get the developer to pay for it, why not. On the other hand, trying to get them to maintain the park in perpetuity seems more like an ongoing tax on this particular development. The city already collects tax monies to maintain our parks.

    Is there any way to get the developer to deed over the observation deck to the city? That way the city could pretty much do whatever it wanted with the space.

    And clearly, these need to be explicit conditions for approval.